This morning I stood by the lake staring out across the sparkling water waiting to see the kayaks appear from around the headland. It was quiet, bright and cold which momentarily made me melancholic at the lack of genuinely crisp mornings this winter.
The state of the weather has a direct impact on my mood and my mood has a direct impact on what I decide to eat. Wet and mild winters encourage cooking that is neither one thing nor the other and I am struck by the number of times this winter I have felt little inspiration as I look out of the window at yet another day of rain. Today I make the most of the brittle cold.
I try to eat healthily because I truly embrace the notion that being good to my body translates into an emotional awareness that I am worth looking after. This never means boring food, tasteless food or thoughtless food and when its cold I want spice and heat. In the local Asian supermarket (a veritable treasure trove of remarkable ingredients at even more remarkable prices) I pick up some tiny birds eye chillies which look as if they’ll be incendiary and add them to a basket already replete with pak choi, tiny mushrooms and some sweet red peppers.
Back in the kitchen rummaging in the fridge I discover a small piece of cold roast beef which is the perfect crowning glory for the dish. The key to this type of cooking is the preparation because once everything is cut and peeled, pummeled into a paste or sliced it is simply a matter of putting it together.
I have often talked of how much I enjoy the gentle process of cutting and peeling. In a tidy kitchen with a little silence or something quietly murmuring in the background there is only me and my own thoughts. Its a chance to catch up with myself to reconnect and to bond. You might find the notion of valuing and cherishing time with yourself a little odd but in reality the one person we should always be able to rely on whatever the situation or time of our life is ourselves so what could be more natural than nurturing that relationship?
In a mortar and pestle I smash up a fat clove of garlic and a generous thumb sized piece of ginger. I cut a birds eye chilli into thin strips (seeds and all) and do similar with a stalk of lemongrass. Heating some oil in a wok or similar pan I add the ginger, garlic and chilli and after no more than a minute I add the sliced up cold beef and stir fry for another minute or so. Into the pan go all of the vegetables except the green leaves of the pak choi and I stir fry for another minute or so. Add the vegetable stock, the lime juice and the soy sauce and, when it comes up to the simmer, add the noodles. Once the noodles are tender you can throw in the pak choi leaves and in no more than another thirty seconds you have at the ready a bowlful of the most warming, invigorating, spicy and wholesome food. This is soul food of the most wonderful kind.
I can’t be sure but I thought I felt a fleck of snow in the air. Then again it could be just wishful thinking.
1 fat clove of garlic
thumb sized piece of fresh ginger
1 stalk of lemongrass
1 birds eye chilli (more if you’re insane, less if you’re cautious)
1 sweet red pepper diced
4 spring onions sliced thinly
I head of pak choi sliced
handful of any mushrooms diced or sliced
soy sauce to taste (at least a couple of tablespoons)
juice of 1 lime
100g of udon noodles or similar
some leftover beef, pork or chicken diced (you can use fresh but to be honest I’d just have the noodles and the veg without meat if there wasn’t any leftovers)
300ml vegetable stock